Monday, December 7, 2009

Ceramics, War and the Artist's Intent

Aaron Carter

On my way to the Berkeley Art Museum, I came upon Aaron Carter and his table of ceramic works. (He was in front of Cafe Mattina on Telegraph, between Channing Way and Haste St.) Mostly pit-fired cups, bowls & containers, and some sculptural items. Each piece had a little spirit and personality of its own. Some had faces. Beautiful surfaces, with organic colors & textures. Very reasonable prices! Mr. Carter is friendly and easy to talk with. He said he fires his work in his back yard, and sells it at a few shops/galleries in the Bay Area, including Expressions Gallery (2035 Ashby Ave. Berkeley) and the Richmond Art Center. Plus he's usually out here every Sunday, as long as the weather's not too bad. He studied art at SF State, Laney, and Merrit. Next time you're in the neighborhood, find his table and check it out. And say "Hi" for me. He doesn't have a web site, but he said I could publish his phone number: 510-534-9234.

When I got to the Berkeley Art Museum, one of the first things I saw was more ceramic work - "New Pathways to Ancient Traditions," a small exhibit of Chinese scrolls, seals, and ceramics. It was the ceramics that really interested me. From the Song Dynasty (960-1279) these elegant works used a decorative technique I'd never seen before, at least not with this skill level. It involved raised patterns in the clay, covered with translucent glazes that settled into depressions, leaving a thinner layer on the raised areas and creating subtle color gradations and combinations (the color of the clay, versus the color of the glaze.) It got me to thinking about how that technique might be possible in paint, and I think I'm going to experiment with it. (photo from Christies.)

Fernando Botero's "Abu Ghraib Series" was my main reason for visiting the museum, so I headed up, up, up the ramps toward the 6th floor. On the way, I passed through "Material Witness," which was a very collegial neighbor to Botero's work. "Material Witness" is drawn from the museum's permanent collection and includes Goya's "Disasters of War" as well as contemporary works that address politics and cultural memory. I think it's easy to approach these works as "reportage to activist response" (Lucinda Barnes, curator of the show) but I'm not so sure that's true, at least not in terms of the artist's process. I just finished reading James Lord's biography of Giacometti, which spends a good chunk of its 570 pages describing the artist's process as a search for truth and a means of understanding the world. It rang very true to me, as that has been my own experience in making representational work with narrative content. It's frequently interpreted as reportage or propaganda and while many works of art can be used for both purposes, I think most often that neither are "true." That is, if you consider the artist's intent to be the truth (another arguable point, admittedly.)

My immediate reaction on reaching the the 6th floor and encountering the "Abu Ghraib Series" was to think, "How can this be possible? How could this happen?" And it remains my opinion that Fernando Botero was trying to answer those questions for himself, as he painted.

(Botero drawing from Columbian Art Blog.)

Video of a conversation between Fernando Botero and Robert Hass, HERE.


namastenancy said...

I found both the Botero and the Goya shows unbearably tragic. I can't fathom the cruelty which allows men to behave in this fashion and for the US to descend (with official blessing) to such depths is such a perversion of all that we are supposed to believe in. I know that people don't always behave in kind and considerate ways, especially in times of war, but this type of behavior allied us with the worst that men are capable of. The United States used to stand for something far better.

Move With Me said...

I would have loved to have seen the ceramics display, thank you for the picture and the discription, something i can research further.